William A. Ewing et Holly Roussell, Civilization – Quelle époque ! — Julie Martin, A Photographic Mapping of the Twenty­First Century

[Fall 2021]

By Julie Martin

As far back as the 1990s, American literary critic Fredric Jameson was noting that the world is non-narrative and unrepresentable.1 Drawing an analogy with the urban planner Kevin Lynch’s book The Image in the City, Jameson showed that because we, as urban dwellers, are incapable of situating our- selves in and mapping our own city, we are unable to visualize and therefore conceive of the globalized social space. To over- come our alienation, in Jameson’s opinion, we would have to reconquer the space, which we would do through the aesthetic of “cognitive mapping.” A “new political art”2 would reveal this world that is hidden from our view by allowing us to grasp its agency and connections, rendering global processes accessible to our senses and experience. In a capitalist era that fosters the development of fluid commodities such as services, information, and data, this strategy seems even more necessary and urgent. Although the task is laborious, it constitutes, of course, a horizon toward which to reach rather than a program to undertake in the strictest sense.

It is this ambitious program that the exhibition Civilization takes on.3 The intention, in effect, is to suggest a vision of the early twenty-first century through a selection of works by more than a hundred photographers produced over the last twenty years. Crowds in motion, clustered highway inter- changes, urban spaces saturated with housing, streets invaded by advertising of all types, cookie-cutter luxury hotels, over- populated refugee camps, networks of intertwined cables, and mysterious sites of technological experimentation are some of the subjects that visitors see in the exhibition. Although not all the photographers who took these shots claim to have a documentary approach, all of their images deliver representations of contemporary phenomena or events. More specifically, they offer a glimpse of the movements that run through to- day’s world: interrelations, invisible flows, influences, mobility of goods and human beings, and more. By freezing these movements, which are too rapid, big, or evanescent to be directly visible, these still images try to make them perceptible.

With the goal of rationalizing this buzzing confusion, or at least making it temporarily intelligible, the exhibition curators, William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell, organized the material in eight sections. The first, “Hive,” explores the currents of human activity in constantly densifying human environments. “Alonetogether” present individuals, groups, and their relationships, which seem to be increasingly modelled by digital technologies…


See the magazine for the complete article and more images: Ciel variable 118 – EXHIBITING PHOTOGRAPHY